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Massive crowds gather in Israel ahead of crucial vote on judicial overhaul

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Tens of thousands of Israelis have flooded the streets of Jerusalem, while additional protesters marched in Tel Aviv, in a powerful display of opposition against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial judicial overhaul proposal. As the debate commenced on Sunday, leading up to a parliamentary vote on Monday, the nation witnessed an escalation of protests, with demonstrators aiming to prevent a key part of the proposed plan from becoming law.

The bill under scrutiny seeks to curtail the Supreme Court’s authority to invalidate government or ministerial decisions it deems “unreasonable.” Critics argue that this legislation poses a serious threat to Israel’s democratic principles.

In Jerusalem on Saturday, participants of a four-day, 70-kilometer trek from Tel Aviv to the parliament completed their journey, transforming the main entrance into a sea of blue and white Israeli flags. The rally swelled in size as it progressed, culminating in a massive crowd setting up camp outside the Knesset in anticipation of the impending vote.

Ido Golan, a protester from central Israel, attended the rally with his partner and children, expressing concern about the state of democracy. “It’s very important for us and also for them to know we did what we can to save the democracy,” he stated.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands joined demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Haifa, and Netanya, reinforcing the call to protect the nation’s democracy.

On Sunday morning, hundreds of protesters gathered at the Western Wall in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, a sacred site for Jewish prayer. They formed a human chain at various locations in Jerusalem, including in front of Jaffa Gate in the Old City, further emphasizing their determination to safeguard democracy.

Reporters on the scene described the atmosphere as tense and the crowd as “massive.” Many demonstrators chanted pro-democracy slogans, voicing their worries about the potential transformation of their nation from a democracy to an autocracy if the contentious bill passes.

Netanyahu and his far-right allies argue that the judicial overhaul is necessary to address what they perceive as excessive powers held by unelected judges. However, opponents of the plan argue that it threatens the balance of checks and balances and paves the way for authoritarian rule.

The international community has also weighed in, with US President Joe Biden urging Netanyahu to seek a broader consensus and reconsider the proposed changes.

The opposition to the overhaul spans various sectors of Israeli society, with business and medical leaders, as well as military reservists, expressing strong opposition. Over 100 top former security chiefs, including retired military commanders, police commissioners, and intelligence agency heads, signed a letter urging Netanyahu to halt the legislation, stating that it jeopardizes Israel’s security and societal fabric.

As the final vote approaches on Monday, tensions remain high, and protesters are resolved to make their voices heard. The outcome of this crucial vote could mark a turning point for Israel’s judicial system, potentially reshaping the nation’s democratic foundation.

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